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Peter Gran

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A Changing American Context? Reflections on Two Books on Egyptian History from Cairo

[Covers of Raouf `Abbas Hamid’s and `Asim el-Dessouky,

Nelly Hanna, Artisan Entrepreneurs in Cairo and Early Modern Capitalism (1600–1800). Syracuse: Syracuse University Press, 2011. Raouf `Abbas Hamid and `Asim el-Dessouky, The Large Landowning Class and the Peasantry in Egypt, 1837-1952. Translated from the Arabic by Amer Mohsen with Mona Zikri. Edited by Peter Gran. Syracuse: Syracuse University Press, 2011. The publication of Nelly Hanna’s Artisan Entrepreneurs in Cairo and Early Modern Capitalism (1600–1800) and Raouf ...

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Peter Gran

 

Peter Gran The need for paradigm change in modern Egyptian history-the area of my ongoing work- arose for me out of the experience of writing three inter-related books on this subject as well as from the experience of doing research in Egypt off and on since the 1960’s. Islamic Roots of Capitalism: Egypt 1760-1840 (1979), found that the “oriental despotism model”, the prevailing model of interpretation in my field,  could not account for the cultural flourishing which preceded the coming of the West in Egypt, which my work uncovered. This book elicited a good deal of reaction. Why just Egypt some  readers wondered?  Obviously my intent was not to privilege Egypt, another book was called for.  This led to Beyond Eurocentrism (1996) which took up this problem as one of roads to the modern world, finding that there were four and only four types of stratification systems which would underlie the emerging forms of national sovereignty. Of particular interesting was the discovery of the similarity of Egypt to Italy, Mexico and India, all of which were countries in which the regional question was a key to the stratification system. And, while a comparative  approach to national trajectories clarified a good deal, as various readers pointed out to me, it failed to address the broader issue of what was the meta-narrative of history, the one which would justify freeing the subject of Egypt, however one would understand it, from its “Orientalness” , this leading to my writing The Rise of the Rich(2009).This book introduced a framework allowing one to speak of paths to the modern world without reference to Orients and without abandoning a consideration of who had power. I am now trying to pull together this project.